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The Outline of Inquiry for History of the Vigneron: Patois Part 3

Additional Information from Part 3

Part 3 of the Linguistic series of History of the Vigneron has ballooned to maybe 20,000 words, at least twice as long as the first two sections combined. It is going to cover a lot of historical and philosophical ground, and these are the questions which are driving that inquiry.

The Questions I will address in Part Three are these.

  1. Following the Revolution, history speaks dually of the land of the nobility and the clergy land being auctioned off, while other texts mention (typically in passing) that the transfer of seigneurial (noble) land, which had been under tenure, was made to the peasantry who had farmed these plots. What were the specifics of these land transfers?
  2. What was the realpolitik behind the release of the tenure? Was this really done in the spirit of Liberté, égalité, fraternité ?
  3. What amount of wealth defines a peasant: how much land did they own, and what was their relative measure of economic security? When had the peasant moved into what was legitimately a burgeoning rural middle class to middle-upper class?
  4. It has been reported that peasant incomes were rising, yet peasants were purportedly being squeezed from their land. How was this happening? Or alternately, did these two positions represent two entirely different philosophical approaches to history?
  5. Population among rural farmers, particularly among the peasantry was falling. Was industrialization and rural exodus responsible for this?
  6. Modern historians are now questioning the relevance of the rural exodus in France. Was the influence of Marxists historiography, which is in largely based on German and English historical-industrial themes, responsible for the prominence of the rural exodus meme having been written into French history?
  7. We know that the birthrate in France was in decline from the late 1700’s. We also know that by the early 1800’s the mortality rate was beginning to decline sharply. These were potentially offsetting factors; but in fact, were they? Could the birth rate have decreased so substantially that it could account for the decreasing rural population, despite the fact that far fewer children were dying before age 10, and people were now living longer lives?
  8. Large commercial farming estates were growing in number and size throughout the early to mid 1800’s. How was this happening? Where and how was the land to expand these farms obtained from?
  9. What was the impact of the Little Ice Age on the French economy, and particularly upon agriculture and the peasantry between 1780 and 1860?
  10. Crop failures and (less commonly) famine happened with periodic frequency between 1780 and 1860. Did this push farmers to leave their land?
  11. Crop failures (and the economic depression they are credited with), were repeatedly followed by revolution and regime change. Was there a causal relationship between crop failures and a change in governance?
  12. Conversely, was the over-extension of the financial markets the real culprit in the economic depressions of 1815, 1830, and 1848, with crop failures, being a secondary cause?
  13. How do we know what is reported by history is true? Who were these historians? What were their theoretical memes and philosophical perceptions? How have those memes and perceptions shaped written history?
  14. Marxist theory was born out of this revolutionary time, and developed a historiography which closely matches the events as we know them to happen. How has Marxism influenced the reportage of history, and are we completely able to separate the two?

Ultimately, upon discovering the answers to this first series of questions, hopefully I can reasonably answer a second set of questions which are more specific to the Burgundian peasantry.

  1. Was a sub-section of the Burgundian peasantry forced to leave their vineyards?
  2. When the loss of peasantry rural Cote d’Or, and from greater Burgundy, or did it happen in the regions immediately surrounding the more famous villages of the Cote d’Or as well?
  3. Were peasants able to buy vineyard land at auction following the Revolution? Did some actually have that much money?
  4. Was their seigneurial land under tenure in the famous wine villages of the Cote d’Or?
  5. Even today many wine writers say Burgundian vintners are peasants or peasant-like. While this is unlikely true today, what was the economic condition of the farmers of Burgundy during the 19th century? Was there a wide-spread peasantry before or after phylloxera reached the vineyards of the Cote d’Or?
  6. Much is made of phylloxera, and its economic impact on France. What was the impact of phylloxera upon the Burgundian farmers? Were peasants or other fermiers forced from their land?

Marx’s Theory of History

Welcome to the additional information page for the post:

History of the Vigneron: Languages Part 3.1, 1780-1880: Philosophy, Perception, and the Historian

Marx’s Theory of History

karl-marx-and-jenny-von-westphalen-1836Marx and Engels wrote that the first social organizations worked together for tribal food production (Marx, The German Ideology, part I, 1845).  The beginnings of slavery, and the establishment of private property would decay the pure “communism” of the tribal communities, and usher in a second developmental stage, which is referred to as “ancient communal and state ownership” (Harris 1997). It was at this point Marx and Engels write that the social classes would develop, and it would do so within two antithetical forms of government, the development democratic city-state as well as the authoritarian regime (wikipedia).

Small-scale agricultural and artisan production, and the lack of division of labor were the hallmarks of Feudalism (Marx 1845), the third of Marx’s historical stages. The inefficient production of the period of seigneurial farming and industry mean domestic commerce was virtually non-existent. Surplus would be necessary before the capitalist stage could begin, and that would require division of labor. Marx wrote that “the entire internal structure of the nation itself depends on the stage of development and international commerce” (Marx, The German Ideology, part I, 1845).

For France, the development of “productive forces” would begin before the revolution 18th century, with the growing Bourgeoisie class, developing international trade by investing in ships and crew, as well as capitalizing the first commercial farming with the development of good roads. The capitalization of large farms would accelerate in the early 19th century, and around 1930, these Bourgeoisie would capitalize industrialization. Capitalism, which is no more than paying others to work to produce a product, from which profit would be made by those that supplied the capital, was seen by Marxist as predatory, and required the “exploitation” of labor. People had become no more than a commodity. This brought of history to the then-present, and Marx predicted that the next stage, which was soon approaching, had to be some form of communal, worker-led, mutual self-governance. Governments would wither away for lack of need. This need not be a violent over throw. The ‘theory of the value of labor‘, produced ample labor power, but the workers must “rise up and unite” in order to make the future happen.

Historical materialism –

Conjoined within the stages of history, was another major jumping off point for debate and study; the concept of historical materialism. Here, man’s basic quest for of food, clothing and shelter, are never complete, and each need “leads to new needs”(Marx, The German Ideology, 1845), and that the particular “social existence that determines their consciousness” (Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859). When the historian, who is either actively, or even subconsciously applying these theoretical underpinnings, the direction of research, and the conclusions that are reached will have been influenced by those predispositions.

Inspiration for Marx can also be seen from Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, a contemporary German philosopher from whom he borrows and expands on the idea that “thought arises from being, not being from thought”(Feurebach 1817). In Marx’s 1845 writing, Theses on Feurebach, Marx pens this line: “The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” While he is superficially dismissing philosophy for action, he is more deeply is reclaiming the use of philosophy for use within his own historical materialism: as one need is met, that of philosophy, a another need arises, that of action.  Historian Francis Wheen, then summarizes Marx’s Theses on Feurebach as thus: “Until humans can assert themselves as subjects of history rather than it objects, the is no escape from this tyranny.” (Wheen 2004).

Revolution, Violence and Force.

Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power. Kapital, volume I, Chapter Thirty-One: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist, 1867

Opening the door for a divergent forms of communism

In the later part of his life, Marx opens the door further for re-interpretation of his work, when in 1877, he is clearly angered by an article published by Russian scholarly journal, Otecestvenniye Zapisky. In response, Marx pens a letter to the challenge the criticisms of (presumably) a fellow Marxist, who Marx refuses to address by name, and referring to him simply as “the writer”. The issue at hand was whether Russia might bypass the stage of capitalism; saying that in cases such as “the plebeians of ancient Rome” he wrote, “different historic surroundings led to totally different results”(Marx, 1877).

He continued that the people of Russia “can without experiencing the tortures of this regime, appropriate all its fruits by developing the particular historic conditions already given her.” In a somewhat convoluted finale, Marx announces, that he will “come straight to the point”. “If Russia continues to pursue the path she has followed since 1861, she will lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a nation, in order to undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime”(Marx 1877).

It appears that this concepts of optional paths of economic evolution was an idea that Marx had been fermenting for at least a decade. Steven Kreis, writes that Marx “delayed the publication” of many of his works, but given his lack of peer acceptance, it may have been the case that he simply did not have an avenue to get them published. One manuscript in particular, which was written between 1857 and 1859 called “Outlines of a Critique of a Political Economy”, was to become the most definitive source for understanding Marx’s “evolutionary periodization”(Harris 2001). However, the fact that it wasn’t published until 1941 limits its historical impact, meaning Marx’s words would not be read and be considered by revolutionaries such as Lenin, who had already died in seventeen years before.

Marvin Harris writes in his book, “The Rise of Anthropological Theory”, Marx opens up the transition from the tribal economic stage, to the possibility that development could follow “a number of different routes,” which were “apparently dictated by local conditions.”  Harris adds, woefully, that Marx’s leaves the specifics of these different routes “disappointingly obscure.” Such is the case with Marx’s   letter to the editor, where he fails to cite “the particular historic conditions” with which the Russian people need to develop in order to “appropriate all its fruits”.

Vladimir Lenin Sverdlov Square in Moscow, with Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev adjacent to the right of the podium. Wikipedia

Vladimir Lenin Sverdlov Square in Moscow, with Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev adjacent to the right of the podium. Wikipedia

To take the position that Russia is capable in 1877 to skip capitalist stage, however is to discredit his own evolutionary economic theories entirely. It suggests that after a lifetime of waiting for his proletariat revolution to happen, in the end, it would seem Marx would be at least partially satisfied that any socialist revolution to be successful.

No doubt this is how Russian Marxists of the era, had read this passage. Lenin (born 1870) and Trotsky (born 1879), who were just seven and eight years old at the time of this letter, would implement the most liberal run-and-gun adaptions of Marx’s ideas as they launched Russia into violent revolution against the Russian Provisional government in 1917. They would ignore the advice of Marx when he wrote of the communards in 1871: “But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”


With every justification these Russian “communists” allowed themselves to resort to the most despotic and brutal suppression of every form of opposition, including the murder of their own followers, and the workers they claimed to represent.


  1. Letter from Marx to Editor of the Otecestvenniye Zapisky, Karl Marx, 1877
  2. The German Ideology, part I, Karl Marx, 1845
  3. The Revolutionary Role of the Peasants, Nigel Harris,  Debate, International Socialism (1st series), No.41,December 1969
  4. The History Guide, Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History, Steven Kreis,, 2000


The question of survival constantly swirls around independent, fine-wine retailers, and plagues small wholesalers and brokers. It’s not just the horrid economy that threatens us. The wine retail market, for all it’s growth, has gotten exponentially competitive over the past ten years, with lots of new players, many of them very powerful. Costco, the largest retailer of wine in the US, with 3 billion in sales, is not the only player among the giants. Total Wine from the South-East is now encroaching in California having opened a number of stores in Southern California and Sacramento, and Safeway has thrown it’s considerable weight back into the fray with expanded selections and periodic 30% off sales.

Golden Rule Wine & Liquor Store (1934), 457 Hu...

Golden Rule Wine & Liquor Store (1934), 457 Hudson Street, Greenwich Village, New York, New York (Photo credit: lumierefl)

This has brought with it, a lot of hyper-competitive pricing practices, and these have all squeezed many independent retailer into a corner. The result is there are fewer customers due to increased competition for every dollar, lower margins on the most highly desirable wines, and now limited supplies of what have traditionally been bread and butter items. This created a niche market for small producers that aren’t found in the chains, and are not subject to the larger independent’s deep-discount marketing strategy. But this too has become fiercely competitive, with everyone fighting for the crumbs.


On the wholesale end, the competition is incredibly fierce. Worldwide improvements in winemaking has brought a huge influx in high quality imports to the market, many of which have received critical acclaim. This coupled with an explosion of domestic brands has  a demand for new small brokers and distributors.

But the new brokers and distributors selling so many wineries that are new to the market, there is little to no access to the big players in the retail industry. So there are more and more representatives pushing more and more wine on stores like mine, and many of them are going hungry.

I have a friend who started a small distributorship. He said “I started two years ago with $25,000 and now I have several hundred thousand in inventory. Things are selling: three hundred cases of this will blow out, and 200 cases of that, but I’m like, how come there’s no money?” Another friend, a broker, said “I’ve got some great wines I represent, but I need one big one that will keep the doors open.” He’s looking for that bread & butter brand.

 “One rep volunteers that he’s given it 9 months and he’s not making it.”

Today was another jam-packed day. I saw at least 10 vendors, all with different desperations.  Some were tasked with winery ride-withs, and were just needing places to take the winery sales manager, and kill-off the day. Others were really hungry. Many of these people I have good relationships with. I rely on them for my business, and they rely me for mine. To some degree, I need to at least show them a few minutes of my time.  

I taste very quickly, and can turn through 3 reps with pouring 20 wines in a half an hour. I rarely have the luxury of time to take notes, other than mental ones. The store is very full with wine, so something really has to wow me to get my attention. Of the 50 or 60 wines I taste, I found a couple real contenders, and order only one of them, a delicious, small production Napa Valley Merlot that I have never heard of that I can retail for around $15. The rest I have to turn away empty handed.

One rep volunteers that he’s “given it 9 months” and he isn’t making it. “I know my wines are good, but there is so much competition.” he adds. I agree with him. I tell him that I have so many reps that call on me, and I want to help them all to make a living, but it just divides the pie into smaller and smaller pieces. We talk about the limited number of accounts that small vendors have access to. They can’t just walk into Costco or Safeway or Total Wine, and get an appointment. So they all come to us. The fact is, we just don’t have the space or business to support them all.  I have often wondered how these small vendors can possibly make enough money to live. The answer is sometimes they can’t.